An Invasion Of Privacy Policy?

I live in a strange and naive world, one where a man can drink water straight out of the faucet, where it is assumed that fellow drivers populating the genius of Eisenhower's interstate highway systems understand the fundamental rules of driving, and where a corporation publishes its Privacy Policy to explain how your sensitive information is respected and protected. One might call it a fairy tale land of such delusional fiction as to be ridiculed and beat up for its lunch money, which is why the recent story from the consistently outstanding Dubious Quality regarding Electronic Arts' Privacy Policy as it relates to those playing EA Games over Xbox Live was not entirely unlike being punched in the stomach. As I read it, Electronic Arts takes the Privacy Policy position that by playing EA games online you are actively authorizing Electronic Arts to extract whatever data it deems pertinent from your system and from Microsoft's Xbox Live customer database. Further, this sharing of customer information seems to happen without any effort to make the casual user aware that a stream of tiny, data-fat bits full of juicy private information is issuing forth through the online ether into the waiting and hungry servers at Electronic Arts.

Which is all to say that, if you've ever played an Electronic Arts game over Xbox Live, EA may already have your email address, phone number, birth date, and credit card information filed away without you even knowing it.

{Edit: Tuesday, August 22, 2006 - Electronic Arts responded to this article and my inquiries, with important clarifications of their policies. Read their response: Here}

Here is what EA has to say on the matter by way of their ironically named Privacy Policy:

If you sign up to play EA games through Microsoft's Xbox Live Service, Microsoft will provide your Xbox Live user account information to EA so that we can establish an EA Online account for you. You need an EA Online account to play EA's Xbox Live titles. By signing up to play EA's Xbox Live titles, you agree that Microsoft can transfer your user account information to EA.

Information collected will vary depending upon the activity and may include your name, e-mail address, phone number, mobile number, home address, birth date and credit card information. In addition, we may collect demographic information such as gender, zip code, information about your computer, hardware, software, platform, media, Internet IP address and connection, information about online activity such as feature usage, game play statistics and scores, user rankings and click paths and other data that you may provide in surveys or online profiles, for instance. We may combine demographic information with personal information.

As I read the referenced quote, it is the policy of Electronic Arts to create an EA Online account for you when you log onto an EA game through Xbox Live, and by creating the account they are granting themselves the authority to retrieve your private credit card information and much more from Microsoft in the process.

This mention of EA Online as being something to which I am registered seemed odd, as I don't recall having seen the brand EA Online associated with my Xbox Live gaming experience in the past, and certainly don't recall authorizing or even being made aware that an account was being made with EA Online on my behalf. I suppose it's possible that at some point over the years I played an EA game where it was made at least vaguely clear to me that I was registering with EA Online, but they've certainly not made a point since of reminding me that my playing EA games online represents my membership in something called EA Online or that I've authorized the extraction of private information such as my phone or VISA card number. To verify this, I fired up my copy of NCAA Football 2007, and hunted high and low within the game, in the provided instruction manual, or on the retail box for any mention of EA Online or the necessity of having such an account for Xbox Live play. As far as I could tell, the EA Online brand is not mentioned even once, nor, certainly, the rights you will relinquish by playing.

Whether Electronic Arts is actually gathering credit card numbers, demographic information, click paths, birthdates, or any of the other multitude of chocolate covered data nuggets at their disposal when you actually log onto an EA Online game is not entirely clear. That is why I contacted their provided email address at [email protected], identified myself and expressed my interest in clearing up any possible confusion for our readers. I was certain Electronic Arts would want to elaborate on the important and well-intentioned methods they employ in protecting sensitive customer information, which must be why they contacted me immediately with a clear and detailed response that reasonably explained their lusty needs for such comprehensive data. Also, they sent me flowers and candies, and invited me to the prom.

Unfortunately, those last two sentences are entirely false. What they actually did was not respond to me in any fashion. Not a "˜no comment', a "˜piss-off', a "˜we don't like you in that way', or even a callous and terse form letter that answered a question seven degrees removed from the ones I actually asked. So, after a week of stony silence, I pressed on and contacted a Corporate Communications Manager at EA for clarification on precisely what information they are gathering on their customers and for what purpose. Again, I received no response at all.

This seemed odd. After all, Electronic Arts had, not six months prior, given us excellent access and coverage at E3, with a PR staff that was keenly interested in our site, our community, and what we thought of Command and Conquer 3. But faced with questions about privacy policies, and credit card numbers, all of our contacts and sources were suddenly very very quiet.

I tried Microsoft next, beginning with researching their privacy policy statement, which is much more with the warm fuzzies and offers a distinct sense that they are very concerned about making certain your private information is kept secure and used only for the forces of good. There's lots of talk about opting out, and blocking the transmission of information from your Xbox, leading one to the impression that here is a company far more interested in at least offering artificial platitudes about privacy options. Or, so it seems until you get to the extremely brief and information-deficient section on "Co-branding", which reads as follows:

Some Microsoft services may be co-branded and offered in conjunction with another company. If you register for or use such services, both Microsoft and the other company may receive information collected in conjunction with the co-branded services.

Presumably, this is exactly what is happening when Electronic Arts grants itself authority to suck Microsoft dry in siphoning information about you. And here Microsoft makes no mention of opting out, or blocking those co-branding companies that decide to lay claim to your email address, street address, telephone number, gender, birthdate, or credit card info. It's not even made clear that the user has any opportunity to be aware of the data transfers.

I proceeded to contact Microsoft's Privacy Policy support through the provided web form, indicating that I'd be interested in any further information they could provide on how co-branding works, what co-branding companies are authorized to extract, and whether customers could opt out of sharing information with those companies. Having already learned a good lesson from my experiences with Electronic Arts, I also went on to put the question to some of our other MS contacts. Despite the web form's assurance that I would have some kind of response within 24 hours, I have yet to hear back from a representative of either company with even a form response.

Clearly, Microsoft and Electronic Arts are not talking about EA Online or what information gamers are sacrificing to play games online like Madden, NCAA Football, or Tiger Woods.

And, of course they aren't interested responding right now. After all, they both have a significant stake in a widely publicized game to be released in the next week, and the last thing they need is some pesky questions about who is getting whose credit card numbers. Ok everyone, all eyes on Madden! No, don't look over there; ocular orbits up front.

Except that this isn't a new story, and despite numerous websites reporting on the troubling phrasing of EA's Privacy Policy since 2006, Electronic Arts is taking a page out of the book written by many an ex-girlfriend in simply not returning even the most impassioned phone call.

EA knows that they can only turn this otherwise quiet discontent into a significant news story by responding publicly. Silence in the specifics of how your information is handled when playing Electronic Arts games is, by far, their best possible policy, because they count on the ignorance and passivity of their consumers. As long as the most significant players in the retail game, consumers in general, don't demand a response, then there's simply no reason to provide one.

That Electronic Arts is heavy handed in their business practices is not a new piece of information. There's simply no reason to be surprised that the company would be stretching every available avenue in collecting any possibly pertinent or profitable information. You might as well be shocked that Michael Jackson had more plastic surgery, or your favorite baseball player is on the juice. We give such corporations no reason to change their practices, because, when push comes to shove, and that new game is so shiny and enticing on the shelves, we conveniently forget our righteous indignation.

And so, when Madden 2007 crashes into retail outlets next week you will again be faced with a choice. How will you choose?

- Elysium

{Again, EA responded to this article: here}

Comments

Hmmm, it's a good thing I really don't play any EA games online.

Fantastic! I was all over Certis about this when I first heard about the Dubious Quality article and thought this would have been a great story to talk about on Conference Call, unfortunately I forgot about it and never brought it up during the show!

I too would like to hear some answers and I would hope that everyone else out there would also feel the same. I think it is ridiculous of EA to want that kind of information, they don't need it, people aren't paying to play a game on a EA built system and network, why the hell should people be forced to give that information. As far as I can tell people are not notified of this arragement before the purchase of the game and you can't return non defective games for a full refund so people either decide to only use half the fuctionality or give up a lot of personal information. I certainly wouldn't stand for it, and Microsoft allowing this to happen is just as bad!

I guess lucky for me I don't have a 360 or live account and so I won't be tempted into picking up any of these games anyway. As far as EA is concerned this is the straw that broke the camels back for me. I am going to make an effort to not buy any EA games for any system until this policy changes. I dislike giving away my personal information even when companies are upfront about it, I despise it when a company does it in an underhanded way.

Let's do it folks get the word out, don't buy Madden until we get answers and changes are made if necessary! Don't just let companies take advantage of you. It may seem like an impossible task but maybe we can make a big enough dent in EA's profit's to get them to notice!

I hope you can forgive my Soap Box rantings.

Wow, things just never ever get better for EA do they?

*POOF*
There's goes the last vestige of any desire to own an XBOX 360.

I was never into sports games to begin with, so not buying Madden isn't such a big deal for me. A personal boycott of EA games isn't out of the question either - out of 50 XBox games I own, 2 are published by EA.

I'll be writing EA today letting them know I won't be purchasing or playing their games until they fix this policy.

You can opt out of EAs info system, but they'll stop you playing their games online. Some guy posted about it online a few weeks ago.

Holy cow. Demographic and credit card numbers being sent to EA? No clarification from EA or Microsoft on the matter? Very troubling indeed. I was greatly looking forward to Command and Conquer 3, but I sure as hell will not pick it up now based on these kinds of business practices, or any other EA game for that matter.

Gaald wrote:

I hope you can forgive my Soap Box rantings.

EA most likely gave them money for coke and wh*res or Live Servers. Just supposition but it's a reason they could want your info. It's certainly not an excuse for them. They know they make the most popular (and only) NFL football simulation and they're exploring new ways to interact with their customers, f*ck them even.

That said the idea of me owning a sport game that isn't a racer or Bomberman is like Clark Kent owning a kryptonite mine so I have no worries about their PC games like C&C.

1Dgaf wrote:

You can opt out of EAs info system, but they'll stop you playing their games online. Some guy posted about it online a few weeks ago.

Somehow, that sounds like a good thing!

Eezy_Bordone wrote:

the idea of me owning a sport game that isn't a racer ... is like Clark Kent owning a kryptonite mine.

Congratulations to me. I have a new sig.

This is me, boycotting EA since 2004 (or whenever that NFL and employee fiasco started, on top of all the buggy crap they produced before.)

I'd like to say I told you so, but I don't remember who I would need to say it to

I also remember reading a story somewhere (bluesnews, I think) about EA stopping people from playing older games online (since you have to use thier servers you're out of luck) even though they are still selling some of the games. Very amusing.

Dr.Ghastly wrote:

I also remember reading a story somewhere (bluesnews, I think) about EA stopping people from playing older games online (since you have to use thier servers you're out of luck) even though they are still selling some of the games. Very amusing.

Those are the ones that probably do not need to an EA Online account to play online, those no longer serve a needed purpose for EA

This is me, boycotting EA since 2004 (or whenever that NFL and employee fiasco started, on top of all the buggy crap they produced before.)
I'd like to say I told you so, but I don't remember who I would need to say it to

Signing up for the boycott now, although it was BF2 that did it for me. I know we all talk about boycott and then forget about it the next time a new shiny appears, but there's really enough going wrong at that company to stick to it this time. They are the Northwest Airlines of the video game world.

So... when Spore comes out, they won't be using the 'massively single player' architecture to just gather info on what creatures I've created, they'll be using the 'EA Online' brand to get plenty of info that way also.

On a PC, I won't be volunteering any credit card info... but if I play on another platform?

Until EA clarifies their position, I have no choice but to assume the worst.

Dr._J wrote:
Dr.Ghastly wrote:

I also remember reading a story somewhere (bluesnews, I think) about EA stopping people from playing older games online (since you have to use thier servers you're out of luck) even though they are still selling some of the games. Very amusing.

Those are the ones that probably do not need to an EA Online account to play online, those no longer serve a needed purpose for EA ;)

Link to story on bluesnews: http://www.bluesnews.com/cgi-bin/boa...

List of games affected:

August 1, 2006 Online Service Shutdown
FIFA Soccer 2005 for PS2
FIFA Soccer 2005 for Xbox
FIFA Soccer 2005 Demo for Xbox
FIFA Soccer 2005 for PC
EA SPORTS™ Fight Night Round 2 for PS2
EA SPORTS™ Fight Night Round 2 for Xbox
NCAA® March Madness™ 2005 for PS2
NCAA® March Madness™ 2005 for Xbox
NBA LIVE 2005 for Xbox
NBA LIVE 2005 for PC
NBA LIVE 05 for PS2
NBA STREET V3 for PS2
NBA STREET V3 for Xbox
NCAA® Football 2005 for PS2
Need for Speed™ Underground 2 Demo for PC
Need for Speed™ Underground 2 for PC
Need for Speed™ Underground 2 for Xbox
NHL® 2005 for PS2
NHL® 2005 for Xbox
NHL® 2005 for PC
Total Club Manager 06 for PS2
Tiger Woods PGA TOUR® 2005 for PS2
Tiger Woods PGA TOUR® 2005 for PC
UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE™ 2004-2005 for PS2
UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE™ 2004-2005 for PC
UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE™ 2004-2005 for Xbox

October 1, 2006 Online Service Shutdown
Madden NFL 2005 for PS2
Madden NFL 2005 for Xbox
Madden NFL 2005 for PC
NFL Street 2: Unleashed for PS2
NFL Street 2: Unleashed for Xbox

Previously Shut Down Online Service
MVP Baseball™ 2005 for PC
MVP Baseball™ 2005 for PlayStation 2
MVP Baseball™ 2005 for Xbox

Dr.Ghastly wrote:

List of Games

On the PC though they're only stopping you from using the EA site to run leagues or what have you, right? You can still manage a league 'the old fashioned way' correct? Did they actually release a patch to disable TCP/IP match making for the PC?

How long before this type of thing just means someone will make a bdnet for EA sports games?

Thanks for writing about this, Elysium. Things like this and the reports that the Dark Messiah of Might and Magic is also sending info from your computer without authorization need to be reported as widely as possible. I sent a tip to Joystiq the other day asking them to cover the latter, but so far they have not - hopefully not because they are weenies.

"Gaming journalism" will never be journalism until it focuses on these issues. I would love to see this be the cover story of the next EGM. Giving Peter Moore a hard time about the 360's backwards compatibility was a small step in the right direction, but it's really nothing compared to this. Stories like this are the shibboleth of gaming journalism.

Eezy_Bordone wrote:
Dr.Ghastly wrote:

List of Games

On the PC though they're only stopping you from using the EA site to run leagues or what have you, right? You can still manage a league 'the old fashioned way' correct? Did they actually release a patch to disable TCP/IP match making for the PC?

How long before this type of thing just means someone will make a bdnet for EA sports games?

As I understand it online play requires thier servers, so no. They will be single player only at that point.

As for a bdnet for EA games, Blizzard won the lawsuit against the 3rd party bdnet, so I doubt EA will get one from a 3rd party.

This is nothing more than a blatant money grab (evidenced by the fact they are still selling these games and hyping the online play) trying to force you to buy the newer games, otherwise they wouldn't have locked online gameplay to thier servers exclusively for these and future games. They could have just used thier servers for rankings and ladders, etc. If they had shut that down and people could still play online with friends, I wouldn't be bitching about it (much.)

Microsoft made a huge mistake allowing EA to use thier own servers instead of Live!

Screw EA.

Sony and EA should join forces at this point and hire Derek S. as their PR man. All that evil and a**holeness in one place would surely cause the cosmic force of the universe to swimply wink them out of existence and replace with them with furry little bunnies.

Is there even any addons that you can pay to download for any of these EA games? I can't think of a single legitimate reason for them to nab credit card information.

Danjo Olivaw wrote:

Is there even any addons that you can pay to download for any of these EA games? I can't think of a single legitimate reason for them to nab credit card information.

So that if and when (if they can't already) they are permitted to buy your credit card records from your bank they can grow your profile even larger and store that on their servers, too.

And then have the whole thing stolen by hackers and sold to identity thieves in just one heist instead of several. Because EA is all about convenience.

At least they're thinking ahead.

I know it's pessimistic, but while I don't like this, I don't think EA does, or even has to care in the slightest about this. The people who do care, like the people at GWJ and other like-minded sites, respresent the tiniest fraction of their sales base. 95% of the people playing BF2 and waiting for Madden 2007 right now don't know, and even if they did know, couldn't care less about it. So they don't have to answer, because they know they can do this, get away with it, and still move several million copies of Madden and other franchise titles when they drop. We'll be indignant, they'll still have the cashola.

You are correct Pred. But every movement started out as "grass roots", so here we are.

So many companies, so many boycotts. Oh well.

My boycott on EA is slightly loose, though. Like Bill Harris, I buy used EA games because, y'know, Burnout.

Maybe there should be a GWJ "On Notice" board.

I know it's pessimistic, but while I don't like this, I don't think EA does, or even has to care in the slightest about this. The people who do care, like the people at GWJ and other like-minded sites, respresent the tiniest fraction of their sales base. 95% of the people playing BF2 and waiting for Madden 2007 right now don't know, and even if they did know, couldn't care less about it. So they don't have to answer, because they know they can do this, get away with it, and still move several million copies of Madden and other franchise titles when they drop. We'll be indignant, they'll still have the cashola.

With an attitude like that of course it will never happen, and that is totally fine if you don't want to jump on board that is your perogative, but as consumers we could if we wanted to change the way EA does business by not giving them our money until they give us some answers and if necessary changing their policies.

That is why we have to be the ones to make sure everyone out there knows exactly what is going on and why we shouldn't be giving EA our money. We are the ones the ones with the knowledge and so we need to educate the unwashed masses. Will we be able to stop everyone from buying from EA? No, I am not that stupid, but if I can convince enough of my friends not to buy Madden and everyone else here does the same and so on and so forth we could probably make a pretty sizable dent. Who knows Madden 07 might just suck anyway save your cash and wait for the reviews if you think you can't live without it. I know I would be pretty happy just playing NFL2k6 (or was 2k5 the better version?).

We are the ones the ones with the knowledge and so we need to educate the unwashed masses.

Truly, you are a man of the people

All that evil and a**holeness in one place would surely cause the cosmic force of the universe to swimply wink them out of existence and replace with them with furry little bunnies.

I think I heard Lobster scream.

And oh yeah, I'm game for the boycott. This truly is outrageous.

Gaald wrote:

I know I would be pretty happy just playing NFL2k6 (or was 2k5 the better version?).

Play NFL 2k5 (2k6 doesnt exist). Urge 2k Sports to make a generic football game. EA didnt buy out the NFL because they wanted to and had the cash. They did it because 2k5 -stole- 40-60% of the money Madden '05 should have made. Every $20 copy of 2k5 sold took $50 from EA. Such beautiful math.

Anyways. We wont have a good football game for 4 or 5 more years because EA doesnt want the Madden megalith to suffer from the indignities of having GOOD football games to compete with. The only reason Spore has a chance to be good is because of Will f*cking Wright. The man has made so much money for the bastards that he could tell EA to change its name to 'Lacy Pink Panties' and they'd do it.

Im in for the Boycott, and have been since NHL 2000.